Poisonings and evictions in Paraguay driven by Europe's meat industry

Illustration by Naoko Okamoto and Jazmín Troche for El Surtidor

This article was written by Maximiliano Manzoni for the Paraguayan publication El Surtidor, and republished as an excerpt on Global Voices under a media agreement.

The U.S. agro-exporters ADM and Cargill buy soybeans from companies or producers linked to at least seven cases of human rights violations against Indigenous and campesino communities in eastern Paraguay, according to a new report by the human rights and environmental organization Global Witness.

Global Witness was able to verify that soybeans linked to cases of pesticide poisoning, forced displacement of Indigenous peoples, and even deaths, end up being mixed in silos of agro-exporters, mainly ADM and Cargill. These companies then transfer the soybeans by barge to their ports in Argentina and Uruguay. From there, they are transported to the final destination: two farms in Europe, one for chickens in England (2 Sisters) and another for pigs in Denmark (Danish Crown). Both supply their meat to more than 26 European brands and supermarkets, including Carrefour, KFC, and McDonald’s.

The business of poisoning and evicting communities to sell soybeans to Europe

ADM, for example, buys soybeans from one company accused of carrying out illegal spraying with agrochemicals, operating without environmental licenses, and spilling pesticides in the waterways in the area of Colonia Yerutí in the eastern region of Paraguay. In 2011, one member of the community from this area, Rubén Portillo, died with symptoms of pesticide poisoning, and 22 other people from the community ended up hospitalized.

In 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Commission ruled against the Paraguayan State. It concluded that it had failed to protect the right to life of Portillo, his family, and the entire Colonia Yerutí and that it had not enforced the laws regulating the use of pesticides or investigated deaths and poisonings. It was the first ruling in the world in a case related to agrochemicals. Cóndor Agrícola, the other company reported in the case, also continues to operate in the area. In 2021, Paraguay received another opinion from the UN for a similar case, that of the Ava Guaraní community of Campo Agua'e, also in Canindeyú. 

In addition to Yerutí and Campo Agua'e, Global Witness identified five more cases where, along with reports of illegal use of agrochemicals, there are conflicts over the land where the soybeans sold by agro-exporters are planted.

Ka'a Poty, an Ava Guaraní Indigenous community, suffered two forced evictions in 2021, in addition to having their homes and school destroyed. A woman who was eight months pregnant lost her baby due to the violence inflicted during one of the evictions. All of these happened despite the community having the title to their land and a court ruling in their favor. The community became known for living for eight months on the streets of Asunción before returning to their land in June 2022. However, tensions with soybean growers continued. In August, members of the community raided one of the farms that sit on the land they claim is theirs. They allegedly threatened, beat, and attacked the residents. Seventeen members of the community were arrested in relation to the incident.

In midst of the historical, judicial, and political conflicts, both Cargill and ADM buy soy from the producers that operate on the lands claimed by the Ka'a Poty community.

An opaque business

Global Witness was able to verify that Paraguayan soybeans from ADM and Cargill are bought in Europe by at least two of the largest farms on the continent: 2 Sisters, an English chicken farming company; and Danish Crown, a Danish pig breeding company. The organization confirmed that they supply at least 26 brands, supermarkets, and retailers in Europe, including KFC, Lidl, Carrefour, Marks and Spencer, and McDonald's.

The soy supply chain is complex. “It's an overwhelmingly opaque industry,” Global Witness notes in its report. The organization tried to contact all the companies involved in the report prior to its publication, from soybeans producers in Paraguay to buyers in Europe. Most of them did not want to respond. Of those who did, none – except ADM – rejected the findings.

The opacity in the supply chain itself makes it impossible to trace whether the soybeans planted in Yerutí end up being used specifically for the chickens and pigs of Danish Crown or 2 Sisters that supply meat, for example, to McDonald's. But it is that same opacity that puts all companies in the supply chain at risk of being complicit.

“If so, all the companies mentioned in this report would be directly linked to the violations of human rights that affect the Indigenous and campesino communities of Paraguay,” the report states. They would be violating international business standards — such as the Guiding Principles on Companies and Human Rights of the United Nations (2011) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines on corporate responsibility in development and due diligence — that is, they are also responsible for preventing and acting on human rights violations carried out by their providers. They would also violate the principle of free, prior, and informed consent, which is a fundamental aspect of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) that Paraguay has applied in its legislation since 2018.

The mere suspicion that soybeans from Yerutí or Ka'a Poty could be linked to European meat already shows the failure of the “self-regulated responsibility” processes of European companies. “Through their own negligence, European corporations, together with merchants, have also contributed for years to infringements such as the ones we documented in Paraguay,” the researchers note.

Consulted by Global Witness regarding the findings of the investigation, Marcos Orellana, UN rapporteur on toxic substances and human rights, warned that because of the producers who do not comply with the law, Paraguay “is at risk of being isolated from international markets, given the growing trend to ensure that supply chains comply with environmental and human rights safeguards.”

Read the full article in Spanish in El Surtidor.

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